Thursday, October 10, 2013

Book review: "How Far Can a Piano Fly? And Other Tales From Column One in Los Angeles Times"

Regular readers of the Los Angeles Times are familiar with the Column One articles that run every day on the front page. Column One is prized real estate in the Times, and it's where readers can find some of the best writing and storytelling in the paper.

Certain elements separate the Column One from typical newspaper fare: It often probes an unusual or offbeat topic, or it tackles a familiar subject with rare depth. While so much in the paper can be browsed or skimmed, the Column One is designed to tell an engaging story that the reader will stick with from start to finish.

"How Far Can a Piano Fly?" is a collection of Column One stories, and includes some terrific examples of the form. There's a tale of the unusual risks taken by Russian ice fisherman, and a story of brave diners who dare to eat a 72-ounce top sirloin. There's a story of an Arkansas man who found an 1877 county bond which, with interest, had ballooned in value to $3.5 million, and his attempts to collect on it. There's a fascinating inside look at the rigorous testing of prospective London cab drivers. All of these are excellent, well-told tales.

Unfortunately, the book also includes Column Ones that are just way too long. Some of these stories go on and on and then on some more with little justification. This is more of a problem with older Column Ones than more recent ones.

Also, some of the articles, while perhaps interesting when first published, are seriously dated. For instance, a profile of tax crusader Howard Jarvis was relevant in 1978, after the passage of Prop. 13, but is of little interest today. Several of the pieces in the book were written in the immediate aftermath of the 1992 L.A. riots, but aren't compelling when read today.

It's interesting that even the foreward of the book doesn't claim that these Column Ones are necessarily the best rather, they're a sampling. Unfortunately, this shows.

In short, there are many good articles in this book, but you'll have to hunt for them.


(Please support this blog by clicking on an ad, or by donating via the Paypal button below.)

No comments:

Post a Comment